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Curio

Brass Hip Ornament

By James Williford | HUMANITIES, November/December 2009 | Volume 30, Number 6

Within the culture of the Benin Empire, which thrived from the fifteenth through the nineteenth century in what is now southern Nigeria, only the oba, or sacred monarch, had the authority to take human life. When the oba chose to grant this authority to one of his warriors, he signaled his permission by giving the delegate a bronze hip ornament, like the leopard head pictured above, which is housed at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, the recipient of an NEH preservation and access grant to improve its art and artifact storage facilities.